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President Biden voiced support for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers on Monday after his administration at first distanced itself from bipartisan and international calls for an immediate end to the increasingly bloody conflict, which has left hundreds of people dead, most of them Palestinians.
Biden made the case for a ceasefire in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a readout from the White House, as airstrikes and rocket attacks barraged the region for an eighth straight day.
“The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the readout stated. “The two leaders agreed that they and their teams would remain in close touch.”
The White House statement stops short of calling for an immediate ceasefire, though it marks the strongest signal yet that Biden believes the Israeli military is using unnecessary force.
Still, Biden reiterated his “firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks” by Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza, according to the readout.
“He encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the readout added.
Biden’s conversation with Netanyahu came after a growing number of world leaders and U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle nudged the president to weigh in, as the Middle East conflict shows no signs of subsiding.
“As a result of Hamas’ rocket attacks and Israel’s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Indiana Sen. Todd Young, respectively the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Sunday.
On Monday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s Democratic leader, backed up Murphy and Young, telling reporters that he agrees with their statement “in its entirety.”
Nonetheless, Biden’s administration earlier Monday vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and voicing “grave concern” over the escalating conflict.
The fighting in the war-torn region erupted last Monday, when Hamas launched rockets at Jerusalem in retaliation for Israeli police raiding a prominent mosque in the city and using rubber bullets, tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics to crack down on Palestinian protests over Israel’s occupation of certain contested areas.
Israel struck back with an intense volley of airstrikes in Gaza.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children and 36 women, with another 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Over the weekend, Israel flattened a building in Gaza City housing the newsrooms of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera, claiming Hamas militants were embedded there. The strike drew outrage from the AP’s CEO, who said his outlet’s journalists were given less than an hour to evacuate the building.
Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas.
Netanyahu has so far shown no signs of being willing to end the fighting and said in a nationally televised address Sunday that his military campaign in Gaza could take “some time.”